Stef Smith’s new play looks at control and civilisation, depicting a particularly English apocalypse under the veneer of an environmental disaster. The dystopia created when pigeons and foxes go mad (my, how playwrights love these disasters) leads to quarantine and mass destruction. It’s predictably grim but nonetheless affecting.
The production is innervated by direction from Hamish Pirie, while Camilla Clarke’s colourful murals, video projections and windows splattered with blood create an impressive set. Efforts are made to inject tension, but the trajectory of the story and political responses of the characters frustrate this.
The cast is top notch. Stella Gonet plays a grieving widow wonderfully (it’s the best part), joined by Natalie Dew as her spirited daughter. Their respective approaches to the crisis – resignation and revolt – are the central dynamic for Smith and could have made a play of its own.
A young couple, admirably performed by Lisa McGrillis and Ashley Zhangazha, share the dilemma of what to do as the state takes charge. One saves animals secretly and the other works for the company profiting from slaughtering all the wildlife. Their relationship is depicted carefully but the argument is blunt.
For a final pairing, oddity is the theme. Two unlikely drinking partners, with bizarre twists to their conversations, are apathy and action personified. Even performers as magnetic as Ian Gelder and Sargon Yelda can’t save the roles from being a puzzle. Showing their bestial sides, as society breaks down, isn’t enough of a pay off.
With the majority of characters too briefly sketched, and the scenario less than compelling, it’s fortunate Smith writes with a powerful, poetic turn. Vivid imagery and bold scenes, where the cast combines to choral effect, are the highlights that ensure this sketchy play becomes impressively pushy.
Until 18 June 2016
Photos by Helen Maybanks